JCR-UK

Aldershot Jewry
in Victorian Britain

 

 

   
 


Extract from papers on
Provincial Jewry in Victorian Britain

Papers prepared by Dr. (later Prof.) Aubrey Newman for a conference at University College, London, convened on 6 July 1975 by the Jewish Historical Society of England
(Reproduced here with Prof. Newman's kind consent)

Paper first published on JCR-UK: 21 December 2015
Latest revision: 4 September 2016

ALDERSHOT (Hampshire)

Published Data

1874[a]

Synagogue 23 & 24 High Street.

1901[b]

Jewish population 52, not including soldiers

Synagogue 1 Barrack Road (founded 1860). 6 seatholders.

[a - The Jewish Directory for 1874, by Asher I. Myers]
[b - Jewish Year Book]


The Foundation of Aldershot Synagogue
Malcolm Slowe

(By†hovering†your mouse†cursor†over the superscript footnote number in the text,
the wording of the footnote will appear in a pop-up box.)

The small Jewish community in Aldershot did not follow any of the established patterns. At the turn of the second half of the nineteenth century the old seaport communities were already in decline and important communities were developing in the major industrial towns. Aldershot was neither a seaport nor an industrial town. It was a mere village with fewer than a thousand inhabitants. The establishment of a Jewish community in this village, therefore, followed no precedent although the reasons were not far to seek. The Crimean War revealed the shortcomings of the British Army and the necessity for the establishment of permanent military camps with adequate facilities for training. The War Office selected Aldershot as a suitable site and work began in 1855. Barracks were built to house 20,000 men and 4,000 horses. It became apparent that the village of Aldershot could not supply the needs of the military population and there were soon attracted a few Jewish families of the humbler class ready and able to take advantage of the opportunity offered. Like most Jews living outside London at that time these were small retailers and artisans such as silversmiths and working jewellers. They followed the occupations of a majority of Jews in the smaller towns where they had originally found a market not already exploited by their Gentile predecessors or contemporaries. Thus it was that the reverses of the Crimean War and the lessons learnt from those reverses were an indirect cause of the establishment of a Jewish community in Aldershot.

As the village of Aldershot grew into a town too quickly and unplanned, the shanty slum town which replaced the village could not have been an attractive place of residence. Mr. John Walters in Aldershot Review(1) describes it as follows:

The town's most profitable activity was that of satisfying the army's thirst for alcohol. In 1851 Aldershot had two small public houses. In 1855 - only a year after the foundation of The Camp - there were counted twenty taverns and forty beer houses. And many of these provided facilities and women for satisfying sexual thirst also. These new taverns and beer shops were additional to those on the rim of the Camp. Hygiene and sanitation lagged far behind in Aldershot's race towards development. The place was a horror of filth, muck and stench. This was because the speculative builders were not inhibited by any compulsory sanitary regulations. No such regulations existed The builders economised by not providing cesspools or even space for them. Townsfolk dug holes in any available ground for the reception of excrement and other waste, and any quiet wall or gutter served as a urinal. When the rains came the filth usually rose from its holes to become a kind of Hampshire River Styx. It encompassed the town and adhered to the footwear of its inhabitants. Officers from The Camp were nauseated by the sights and the smells, warning the G.O.C. of the health perils faced by the troops in such conditions. Many indeed did contract fever from their trips into Aldershot town. Civilian workers with sufficient means flocked into more civilised and cleaner Farnham to seek houses or lodgings. And this old town, also benefiting from The Camp, became notorious for its extortionate prices. In Farnham too there was a great expansion of inns and taverns.

It was economic necessity and not the attraction of the Hampshire countryside which persuaded the Jewish tradesmen to set up their businesses and to reside in Aldershot.

By 1858 there were sufficient Jews in what was now a small town to establish an informal community which from time to time could meet for prayer. In 1863 this tiny community felt the necessity to establish itself on a formal basis. They had already been meeting regularly for prayer, and their principal concern now was the provision of a cemetery and a supply of Kasher meat. Eight residents of Aldershot founded the Congregation and it could never have been a very flourishing Congregation because in 1896 the Jewish Year Book gave the number of seatholders as six and the expenditure for the year as £78. At that date the Jewish population of Aldershot was 54 not including soldiers, and that number would, of course have included women and children. The minimal dimensions of a viable Jewish community have in this century become much larger. It is unlikely that so small a number of congregants would to-day attempt to form a Congregation, and most certainly it could not have been maintained by such small numbers for so long a period.(2) 

The eight residents who formed the Congregation were Frederick Levy, Moses Phillips, Joseph Lazareck, Selim Melson, Woolf Cohen, Francis Phillips, Samuel Lazareck, and Michael Melson, Optimistically they added "with power to add". The occupations of these gentlemen are indicative of their humble status and the economic necessity which required them to move to this most unpleasant town with no facilities for the practice of their religion. Moses Phillips was a jeweller as was Selim Melson. Joseph Lazareck combined the trades of clothier and jeweller. Francis Phillips was a watchmaker, and Woolf Cohen a general merchant. Obviously all these services would not have been required by the small local population but they served the needs of the Aldershot garrison.(3) 

The laws of the Congregation of which only a manuscript copy survives show that Moses Phillips was President and Selim Melson Hon. Secretary. Joseph Lazareck and Frederick Levy were on the Committee. The weekly subscription was to be sent to the house of the President every Monday. There was, of course, the provision, usual at that time, that refusal of office would result in a fine to the funds of the Congregation varying from 21/- in the case of the President, 10/6 in the case of the HonĄ Secretary, to 5/- in the case of a Committee member. Any new member of the Congregation was required to pay a subscription of 2/- weekly but could not vote unless he had been a subscriber for six months. Non-paying residents or strangers using the services of the Shochet (ritual butcher) were to pay him 2d. a lb. as a tax for meat, and 3d. per head of poultry, but the Shochet was required to account to the Congregation for the money so received. The Shochet was, of course, to receive a fixed salary and this was to be paid every Tuesday. Attendance at meetings of the Congregation was compulsory, and failure to attend resulted in a fine of 2/6 unless unfortunately the member was prevented by illness or absence from Aldershot from attending. In view of this there was a special provision that if the meeting were convened by anyone except the President and was considered by the majority of the members to be an unnecessary meeting the member convening the meeting should be fined 10/6. The precaution was taken of having the laws of the Congregation signed by every member of the Congregation, and it is interesting to observe that although these gentlemen were humble tradesmen and artisans it is apparent from their signatures that they ware all literate at a time when literacy was far from general.

One of the first concerns of the newly formed community was to acquire a burial ground, and it was decided in July 1864 to apply to the Aldershot Burial Board for a portion of the Board's burial ground for the use of the Congregation. This had apparently long since been in mind because a plan of grave spaces of the Aldershot Cemetery dated 1861 shows a portion of the Cemetery "allotted to the Hebrew Congregation". This allotment had been sanctioned by Lord Grey on the 20th April 1864, but formal steps could not be taken until the Congregation had been properly constituted.

The application explained that the part set aside for the Congregation would have to be distinctly divided by a wall from the remainder of the burial ground, have a separate entrance from the road, and be entirely under the control of the Congregation. The application put forward a new approach and asserted that as rate payers and residents in the parish the members of the Congregation had a right to a space for this purpose. Apparently this application was a mere formality because on the 30th July 1864, the Board met and instructed the Clerk that it was disposed to entertain the application to the extent of 1,200 sq. yds. instead of the 2,000 sq. yds. asked for if the Congregation were prepared to pay £50 and carry out the work of erecting the division wall and the separate entrance at their own expense, The Congregation must have been optimistic in regard to the growth, because although the cemetery is still in use there is still room for grave spaces. A formal Agreement took rather longer and was dated the 19th April 1865, and a grant was accordingly made to Moses Phillips, Selim Melson, Joseph Lazareck, Woolf Cohen, and Francis Phillips as trustees for the Congregation. This formality must also been anticipated because on May 1st Mr. Joseph Stoodley, a builder of Aldershot, offered to execute the works required for £59, and a formal Agreement was entered into with Mr. Stoodley on the 10th May 1865. The work was duly carried out to the satisfaction of the Congregation's surveyor, and apparently they had no difficulty in finding the £109 for the consideration and cost of works and also their surveyor's fees. The manner by which the Congregation had secured its burial ground was interesting for the reason that other Congregations which were being formed about that time appeared to be having problems in acquiring small burial grounds, and the Aldershot Congregation was from time to time able to give the necessary information and "know how" to the new provincial Congregations then being established.

The Congregation was soon concerned to provide its members with a supply of Kasher meat. On June 12th 1864, a resolution was passed in regard to arrangements with a local butcher to provide facilities for the Congregation's shochet to attend as slaughterer. The butcher was to provide a service for the Congregation which seems a little unusual now. He was required to send his messenger every evening to customers who were members of the Congregation to collect orders and to dispatch them between 9.30 and 10.30 the next day when the shochet would be in attendance to perform his duties. No time was lost in engaging a shochet and on July 4th Chief Rabbi Adler duly certified that Meyer Ahronsha had passed his examinations and was authorised to perform the duties connected with his office provided that his religious and moral conduct continued to be such as to render him worthy of the Chief Rabbi's confidence. Mr. Ahronsha appears later to have shortened his name to Ahrons and became locally known as the Reverend Mr. Aarons. The shochet's salary appears to have been 15/- per week and presumably, as was customary in small Congregations, he also acted as reader and carried out other duties for the Congregation, but even so this could not have been a full time occupation. Mr. Ahronsha does not appear to have given the Congregation satisfaction because an application was made to the Chief Rabbi for a replacement on December 10th 1865. The Chief Rabbi refused to consider the matter without knowing the reason for the discharge of Mr. Ahronsha. He saw Mr. Ahronsha and persuaded him to attend at the houses of members of the Congregation to kill poultry whenever required and also to conduct himself in a respectable manner towards the members of the Congregation. He hoped that Mr. Ahronsha would now give satisfaction. Apparently the Congregation was still minded to dismiss him and the Chief Rabbi "summoned" the president and Honorary Secretary of the Congregation to appear before him with Mr. Ahronsha. The result of this arbitration appeared to confirm the justification of the Congregation for dismissing their shochet because in the same month the Rev. Jacob Cohen of Oxford applied for the post in reply to an advertisement in the Jewish Chronicle(4) and he was in due course duly certified by the Chief Rabbi as authorised to perform his duties. He appears to have held the same post until 1888 when the Rev. S. E. Lassman was appointed. Not surprisingly the Rev. Cohen found some difficulty in maintaining himself on his salary. In March 1872 he wrote to the President of the Congregation complaining that the allowance of £1 10s granted to him for expenses when he had been summoned to London for examination before Dr. Adler had been insufficient, and he produced a full account of his expenses which makes interesting reading to-day. He had apparently had to stay a few days longer than expected and had spent 11/-d. more than his allowance. In May 1872 he wrote a letter of petition to the Congregation asking for an increase from 15/-d, to 16/6d a week in his salary.

The embryo Congregation could little afford to lose any members but in August 1864 Frederick Levy moved to Weston-super-Mare. He was asked to continue his subscription to the Synagogue but regretted his inability to do so. In September 1864 Mr. Broatman joined the Congregation and he was followed by Mr. Saul Warschawski in 1866. Both new members made declarations that they would adhere to the laws and regulations of the Congregation and endeavour to sustain and promote its welfare.

An interesting application for membership was received in 1880 from Mr. Nathaniel Solomon. He had apparently been living in Aldershot since 1867 and his immediate reason for wishing to join the Congregation was his intended marriage. His letter read as follows:

I wish to become a member of your congregation so as if any time my intended wife or myself should wish to come to the synagogue we should be able to do so. I should like to have cosha (sic.) meat. I will pay one shilling per week for the same and if bye and bye I can pay more I will do so an early reply will oblige.

At that time Mr. Solomon appeared to be in quite a small way of business as a wholesale and retail furnisher but it was not many years before he became the proprietor of the largest business in Aldershot and its chief citizen.(5) 

Solomon Brothers became chief contractors to the Aldershot Garrison and very important contractors to the army generally, and were said to hold the largest hire stock for military purposes in the country. The tents and portable buildings used by the army were manufactured in the firm's works in Aldershot. From supplying the army with its requirements the national reputation of the firm soon spread and Solomon Brothers were providing the marquees for Goodwood, Ascot, and Henley, and later received a Royal appointment. It was not only business matters which concerned Nathaniel Solomon. He served on the Aldershot Council from 1902 becoming Chairman of Aldershot Urban District Council in 1907 and Mayor of the Borough in 1924. He was also a founder and, later, chief of the Volunteer Fire Brigade. At the mayoral banquet Alderman Solomon waxed reminiscent and said that when he came to Aldershot in 1867 the business centre was not very much because most of Aldershot was either fields or gardens. His marriage to Rose, which had prompted him belatedly to join the Congregation lasted until 1914 when Mrs. Solomon died at the early age of 55. In a tribute the Rev. Michael Adler said:

The Jewish Soldiers have lost one of their best friends in the passing away of Mrs. N. Solomon, who for many years acted as Hon. Secretary to the Aldershot Congregation. Her interest in the welfare, moral and material, of the Jewish regular who was stationed at the barracks near her home, was unceasing. During the negotiations with the Headquarters' Staff that resulted in the present synagogue being given by the authorities to the Aldershot military and civil community. Mrs. Solomon was indefatigable, and supported me with the utmost loyalty in bringing the work to a successful issue.(6) 

The funeral of Mrs. Solomon in the tiny burial ground was attended by the representatives of all civic organisations in Aldershot and the Aldershot Gazette in a long account of the funeral reported.

Crowds of people had assembled at the graveyard and followed with the deepest interest and sympathy the somewhat brief service of committal, rendered in Hebrew and English. The emotion of the bereaved husband and some (sic.) was touching to behold. Each mourner at the conclusion of the service took the sexton's spade and shovelled three spadesful of earth into the grave The officiating clergy were the Rev. Michael Adler, assisted by the Rev. Plascow.

Nathaniel Solomon may have delayed his membership of the Synagogue but made amends later by acting as its President from 1916(7) until he died in 1932. His long span of life saw the growth of Aldershot from a village to an important provincial town and his own growth from a poor struggling, tradesman, unable to pay the full membership dues of 2/-d. to the most respected citizen of the town.

Alderman Solomon was not the only Congregation who took an active part in affairs the town. Joseph Lazareck devoted many years of service to the wider community as a member of the School Board, the local Board of Health, and the Aldershot Board of Guardians.(8) 

Services were held, apparently from the outset, at Moses Phillips' premises at 24, High Street. This was at all times described as a temporary Synagogue, but it certainly housed the four Scrolls of the Law and their appurtenances which belonged to the Congregation. The following is a description of the interior taken from Sheldrake's Guide (circa. 1888):

The reading desk is in the centre of the Synagogue opposite the ark and has a very handsome cover worked and presented to the congregation by some lady friends. In the ark, which is made of polished geshem wood, and has some richly embroidered veils of purple, blue and scarlet there are four valuable parchment scrolls of the ancient mosaic law. All these scrolls have solid silver appendages (Yaddim) presented by various friends and members.

At first this was solely a civilian Synagogue. The few Jews then in the regular army do not appear to have been much concerned with Jewish worship, and, having no facilities provided for them, frequently attended Church Parade. However, by 1882 advantage was taken of the existence of a Synagogue in Aldershot and for the first time divisional order contained the following under the heading "Divine Service":

Jews --- at 8.30 a.m. on Saturdays and Holy Days in the temporary Synagogue, 24, High Street, Aldershot. Commanding Officers will facilitate the attendance of men of this persuasion at the services.(9) 

The Jewish Chronicle applauded this development and said that the spirit displayed by the Aldershot authorities if generally followed would do much towards placing Jewish soldiers on a better footing. Thus it was that the tiny Congregation of Aldershot was able to provide a precedent for other communities where there were Jews serving in the Services. Three years later the Board of Deputies was able to arrange that every Jewish soldier who applied for it should obtain leave of absence for festival observances. Some apparently went to London but others attended the Synagogue in Aldershot. This was the first time that soldiers in uniform had been present at the New Year services. Thus the civilian Synagogue became a joint civil and military Synagogue, but in due course Moses Phillips' premises were disposed of, and as a result of the exertions of Mrs. Solomon and others the Army authorities provided premises within the Camp for both the civilian and military Jewish population of Aldershot. This Synagogue, known to the community as "The Hut", was, of course, on military ground, but no difficulties were experienced by civilians in attending the services which were held for many years until The Hut was demolished to make way for developments at the Barracks, and the few remaining Jews in Aldershot ceased to have a place of worship.

There was regular correspondence between the Chief Rabbi and the Congregation and the Congregation was supplied with all necessary information and special prayers prepared by the Chief Rabbi from time to time. Some-of these were prayers of thanksgiving, others prayers of intercession such as during the cholera epidemic and persecution of the Jews of Russia. Whilst taking advantage of the services made available by the Chief Rabbi the Congregation failed to contribute to the Chief Rabbi's fund until 1891 when it was resolved to subscribe 2 guineas per annum. Aldershot, however, was not backward in regard to charity and no less than £82.11s. was sent to the Mansion House Relief Fund for the persecuted Jews of Russia in 1882. Of this sum Joseph Lazareck subscribed £30 and Samuel Lazareck £15. Most of the Aldershot contributors appear to have been non-Jewish residents of Aldershot, with whom the Congregants were on very friendly terms.

The Congregation, small as it was, had the usual trials and tribulations, In 1894 the President received a letter from the Chief Rabbi referring to a complaint by a Mr. Burstein that the Congregation had refused to call him up when he desired to have his child named. The President replied to the Chief Rabbi that Mr. Burstein had never been present in the since the child had been born.

The Rev. Isaac Livingstone became Minister of the Congregation in 1907 and Chaplain to the Garrison, and he has informed the writer that by that time his duties were principally as Chaplain to the Garrison. His recollection is that the civilian Congregation then consisted principally of the families of Phillips and Lazareck.

The Congregation struggled on with services at "The Hut" but-it was reported at the Annual General Meeting in 1935 that there were only two or three members regularly paying their subscriptions.(10) By 1940 it was reluctantly observed that no interest was taken in the Synagogue and in 1945 Dr, Brodie was reported to have discouraged the continuance of a civilian Synagogue in Aldershot. Eventually arrangements were made for the United Synagogue to take over the cemetery and the ritual appurtenances which were transferred to the Jewish Committee for H.M. Forces and are now at Kenton Synagogue.(11) 

As an ephemeral Synagogue Aldershot had lasted longer than most notwithstanding its tiny Congregation and lack of a permanent Synagogue building. In so small a community some movement away from Aldershot, some marriages out of the faith, and some lack of interest by the third generation of members, combined to cause the demise of the Congregation. The Synagogue had outlived its usefulness but it is a comforting thought that for nearly 100 years it had served the purpose for which its founders had striven. It was unique because of the reason for its foundation and for its continuance with so small a Congregation.

 NOTES AND SOURCES

The information on which this paper is based is derived from original documents and correspondence made available to the writer by Mrs. M. Perkin, a grand- daughter of Mr, Nathaniel Solomon. These cover a period from 1863 to 1894. No Minute Book covering that period has been traced and it is very likely that no Minutes were, in fact, kept until 1916. For the period October 1916 to the 11th August 1959, there is a Minute Book in the possession of the United Synagogue. Much of the information concerning the Solomon family has been derived from scrap books of that family kept by Leslie Solomon,, a deaf and dumb son of Nathaniel Solomon, and made available to the writer by Mr. Edward A. Phillips, a great-grandson of Moses Phillips, Gratitude is expressed to Mrs. Perkin, Mr Phillips, to Mr. Norwood of the United Synagogue, and also to the following: Mr. John Walters, author of "Aldershot Review", for permission to quote an extract from that book: to the Rev. Isaac Livingstone who has assisted me with some recollections: to the Editor of "Aldershot News Series": to the Librarian of the Jewish Chronicle, who provided many useful references covering the period of this paper: to the Reference Librarian of the Borough of Aldershot! to Lt. Col. Howard N Cole, author of the Spry of Aldershot, for much helpful information and for checking the facts with historical records of Aldershot: and to Dr. Aubrey Newman for helpful suggestions. Unless otherwise indicated below, all the sources are from the original documents and correspondence referred to above. Other sources, as numerically noted in this paper, are as follows:-

( returns to main text)

  1. From Aldershot Review by John Walters (1970) (Jarrolds Publishers (London) Ltd.)

  2. This was demonstrated by Professor Cecil Roth in his paper at the Conference held at University College in 1962 by the Institute of' Contempwrary Jewry of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. See Jewish Life in Modern Britain by Julius Gould and Shaul Esh (Routledge & Kegan Paul).

  3. The occupations of the founding members are taken-from the original documents, but White's Gazetteer of 1878 gives some different or additional occupations. Moses Phillips was apparently also a pawnbroker as were Joseph Lazareck and Samuel Lazareck. Woolf Cohen was described as "Woolffe Cohen a Rag Merchant and Pawnbroker", and Francis Phillips, in addition to being a watchmaker, was also apparently a pawnbroker.

  4. The advertisement appeared in the Jewish Chronicle on January 19th 1866 and read as follows:-
    "Wanted immediately a Shochet in Aldershot, Hants. Apply to Mr. Phillips, President, 14, High Street."

  5. The Aldershot Gazette taken from the Solomon scrap books.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Minute Book of the Congregation in the possession of the United Synagogue.

  8. Jewish Chronicle, April 20th 1877, and April 23rd 1880.

  9. Jewish Chronicle, September 8th 1882, page 13, and also see Jewish Chronicle, September 15th 1882, page 4, and Jewish Chronicle, September 18th 1885, page 12.

  10. Minutes.

  11. Letter from Mr. Norwood of the United Synagogue.

 

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